Scam company Magic Leap
"Today our world seems divided." Roni Ebowitz, director of the infamous startup Magic Leap [ "magic leap" / approx. trans. ], dealing with mixed reality, stood awkwardly on a round platform, surrounded by hundreds of attendees at the first developer conference, the first major public event hosted by his company, and watched the teleprompter with his hands behind his back. “He seems broken,” he said. “Our new spatial computing environment looks fresh.” She has no old baggage and negative headlines that dominate today's news. ”
This statement is, of course, controversial. Few companies are able to attract titanic volumes of investment, hold on for years while the company's activities are covered by the media, holding their breath and spawning myths around everything that it does, gradually sow irritation in the community of their fans, get a lot of lawsuits related to a state in which it is easy to become a universal ridicule without releasing a single product - while maintaining capitalization of $ 6 billion. Magic Leap somehow managed to do it all.
The company from Florida was once at the height of fashion, while remaining the most mysterious character in the technology industry. I remember how in the mid-2010s I heard stories from friends of acquaintances who tried this thing with augmented reality, and it was awesome. They stayed on the wave of half a billion received from Google, a joyful reaction to the concept video, an enthusiastic article in Wired . In the middle of all this, there was Ebowitz, who increased Leap's expectation degree, for example, comparing this company with NASA while sending astronauts to the Moon. "The space program had the space programs Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, and we are now in the Apollo phase, " he saidFast Company in 2014 Ebowitz describes Magic Leap as a company that generates "kinematic reality", which, he says, will cause an "absolute shift in visual computing."
After many years of secrecy and relative silence, in August, Magic Leap finally released its flagship product for developers: a mixed-reality kit that includes glasses, a remote control and a wearable computer, priced at $ 2,295. In mid-October, the company held an introductory conference for developers, trying to lure creative people from outside and present the device to a wider audience. In many ways, this is the final stage of the product’s public debut. In 2015, Ebowitz saidWired: "When we launch it, it will be awesome." After spending two days at LEAPcon, I considered it my duty - in the name of common sense in an era when a company that never sold a product to a consumer could cost a billion dollars more than the annual GDP of the Fiji Republic - to tell you that nothing happened .
Magic Leap, obviously, wants its launch to seem large - and who wouldn't? Acting in its own style, the company closed the entire wall of LA Mart, a 12-story building in a suburb of Los Angeles where the conference was held, with a psychedelic image of an astronaut and the signature “Free Your Mind”. In the same style of demonstration and keynote speech took place in the basement, one wrong turn in which could lead you to the loading and unloading department, and mobile communications did not work.
Early in the morning, on the first day of the conference, I was taken by shops with household goods and carpets into the bowels of the building, where a set of various demonstrations was waiting in the wings in a large modernist room with a touch of industrial chic. I walked past a large map of New Zealand, part of augmented reality sponsored by Air New Zealand, something like a dive CAD simulator, and got to the initial setup station, where the Magic Leap team determined the parameters of my head (the glasses come in two sizes and a little adapt) and noted the results on the card, which I should wear everywhere and show at various demo stands. My size was 1-2-2-X. At one of the stands, an employee joked that someday this card would become something like a driver's license, an identity card that we would have to carry with us.
At first, we were shown a demo from the Wayfair home junk store, where you could drag a poster or table from the menu to the real room where you are standing - or you could theoretically do it, because in about half of the cases it did not work. It was the same archetype of the demonstration of augmented reality, which we have seen many times in the past, with Google Tango and HoloLens. Then we moved to a large room where a fur statue was provided by Meow Wolf, a company engaged in “diving sensations”. I climbed into the control room, which was supposed to be something like a navigator simulator, but mostly there you could drag small balls of planets from place to place in concentric circles.
More sophisticated was Leap's own application, Create, which allows you to scatter low-resolution figures and building blocks around the room so that they interact with real objects. Cartoon reefs can grow out of the walls, a knight battle can be arranged on the table, a UFO can be let out flying through the room; it was cute and bizarre, and children might like it. I played the version of Angry Birds in augmented reality - also cute and bizarre. There was also a simulator of care for porgasauthorship of ILMxLab, which was not only cute and bizarre, but also quite a complex example of Magic Leap's potential possibilities: if you turn on a smart device in a room, small creatures will interact with it - they will be blown away by a fan, they will dance to the music from the speakers, and fall asleep in front of the TV. The iconic game from Magic Leap, Dr. Grordbort's Invaders was, yes, sweet and bizarre, and showed that glasses can provide interaction with higher-budget games.
There was also an extravagant pest control game where you had to beat the spiders with a baseball bat. There was an actor who read Shakespeare's monologue under a tree. There was a quiz on a large map of New Zealand, which was led by a three-dimensional hedgehog (as it seemed to me). There was a lot of all sorts of nice and bizarre added stuff, and, by and large, nothing more.
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Imagine the feeling when you think that everyone around you succumbed to some kind of mass hallucination of moderate severity, but you did not have enough dose? This is a strange phenomenon “what am I missing”? This is how I often felt on LEAP, in crowds of people, flinging buzzwords and porridge from acronyms with light speed, or when I already read reviews of the device. Somehow, after years of failed attempts to give out something substantial, a huge amount of media is still under the impression of Leap. (Stories about augmented and virtual reality are like catnip for journalists; they simply drag the reader awaybeginning like: "I look at a huge blue whale, and I swear that he can swallow me whole, but this all happens with my glasses," etc.). A demo for a demo, I thought - well, yes, that's pretty sweet. The games are charming, even simplified and buggy, and, yes, it may be convenient for architects if they can enlarge their drawings and take a walk through them. I liked the smart and funny developers. Part of the graphics and interactions were beautifully rendered. But there was nothing - except for the only demo I’m going to get to soon - that I would like to repeat. It seemed to me insane that people could so admire it, especially many years after the appearance of quite good devices like VR and Hololens, without having any obvious mercenary goals.
Magic Leap One Developer Kit released in August
As many have noted, iron is still very limited. The technology underlying these demonstrations is quite advanced, and if not for years of marketing, insisting on a reality in which pixels imperceptibly merge with real-life physics, it would look really impressive (is it sufficiently advanced to give all the promises made by the company - at the moment this question is open). So far, the field of view is small and awkward, so the images constantly disappear from view when you look around. If you get too close to objects, objects start to break or move strangely. If you manage to catch an object in sight, it can be drawn in low resolution and transparent; Some objects were similar to cheap holograms from the old NF film. The text was blurred,
According to Magic Leap, over 1000 people signed up for the exhibition. What for? - I wanted to ask them all. Do you think this is the future? Seriously? I thought that the answer to this question could clarify whether the Magic Leap will become the most expensive of our era - the most legendary companies that have occupied a niche of technological imagination since the days of another “magic” monster of bygone days, General Magic - companies whose roots were in Apple. There, too, the brightest technical minds of the 90s were chasing the revolutionary technology of personal communication, without giving out anything substantial, not to mention profit. After a couple of dozen interviews, I found a mixture of curious and skeptical developers, true believers, corporate futurists who shy away from responding, and hard-working opportunists.
“Let's imagine this as the first iPhone,” Shrenik Sadalgi, director of Next Gen Experiences from Wayfair, told me. “If in eight years this device will be on everyone, how cool will it be?” I heard this refrain again and again, from the most optimistic developers - they said that it was the germ of the future, that the first iPhone was also relatively rough, and not who would have predicted that he would define a class of products that would dominate not only the entire technology industry, but also the daily life of most people.No one wants to miss the opportunity to grab onto the new iPhone.
And, yes, there were true believers. I met one developer who flew in from Singapore to pick up my points and attend a meeting, and another one who put aside and saved to buy a device and flew into the pipe. “I probably made the leap, ” laughed 30-year-old Brian Vaughn, who said he was engaged in a project to create a brain-computer interface with his own money. “I'm still paying for it. I had to collect all the savings to pay $ 2,400. But I do not regret anything. ”
What is the problem of analogy with the first iPhone? Yes, it was not perfect, but it had its own interface paradigm and some elements that immediately attracted the user - it “just worked”, as one guru would say, a fan of turtlenecks. It was immediately clear why Google maps on the touchscreen or a mobile browser with an abundance of graphics needed to be in your pocket all the time, or why scrolling your address book with a simple finger movement made sense. The appeal of Magic Leap One outside the entertainment area is quite abstract. At the same mercy and quirkiness you will not get far.
“It's more like an Apple Newton than an Apple iPhone,” one venture capitalist told me. And I constantly thought about it, moving from a stand to a stand, listening to speeches, sitting at meetings for developers. Magic Leap has spent more than five years and billions of dollars, and so far has not issued something particularly exciting, corresponding to the title of "transforming the world" of the computer system - only games with shooting robots.
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“We are still in the phase of creating crazy shit,” Roni Ebowitz told me at the presentation of the launch of the game for shooting robots Dr. Grordbort, held in the style of steampunk. People in the costumes of soldiers-robots were pushing the crowd with the help of beam pistols, not wanting to leave the image. When I asked Ebowitz what most impresses him about this platform, he immediately said: “I adore it because I adore science fiction.” When I asked what examples of technology use he was most interested in, he quickly replied: “Have you seen a presentation with Andy Serkis on the second floor ? This is something completely different, ”he said, shaking his head. The motion capture studio Imaginarium Serkis became a partner of Magic Leap, although I didn’t see their demo on LEAPcon.
Roni Ebowitz, Director of Magic Leap
The issue of applicability pursued me and while I listened to the performance the next day, at which Ebowitz and the company described covering cities with something called the Magicverse, which would use 5G networks - for what exactly? For the organization of games with shooting robots? In an interview with the director of content company Rio Karayev, I asked him if the company could create one perfect application that would convey all the capabilities of this device, what would he do? “I want the Star Wars universe in real life. “I want the droids to roll on the floor, to be my personal assistants, to help me with my business,” he said. - I want to look up and see the Tie Fighters and X-wings battles. I want to have a companion droid, and that he has intelligence. I want it to be constantly in my life. ”
This trend seems to be universal. It is perhaps not surprising that the Magic Leap is almost entirely built on the ideas of adults who want to dive into fictional worlds. The main theme of the company's concentration is entertainment, games, pleasant pastime. Kinematic reality? Definitely. Expansion of computational boundaries? Not particularly.
Interestingly, the most exciting view on the possible future of Magic Leap was shown to me by product manager Sakina Grotto, not a man or a white one, who convincingly told me about the world freed from the tyranny of browser tabs where you can leave web pages in those physical places where You need; recipes in the kitchen, office research articles, etc.
Someone from the product development department had to guess that people would want to do something in the Magicverse except to recreate the world of the film “ First Player Prepare ”, and perhaps for this reason, after many years of secrecy and silence, worthy of Apple, Magic Leap suddenly wanted to invite a community of developers on board.
“At first I was very nervous, because there were a lot of promises made and there was a lot of intrigue,” said Alexandria Heston, a designer of augmented reality from Chicago. - And when they released the iron, I will not lie, I was disappointed. But from that moment on, the company communicated perfectly with third-party developers — I never had such a thing, so that the company itself would address me and ask how to help me do what I do. ” Apparently, Magic Leap desperately craves to drag developers on board.
Perhaps she knows that she will need help in somehow convincing users that it is worth spending over $ 2,000 on a bulky head-mounted device. At the presentation, John Donovan, director of AT & T Communications (another parallel with the iPhone is that AT & T is one of the earliest partners) pointed out that the iPhone took off after being opened for the App Store developers, and it is, Facebook , Instagram, Twitter - they all participated in the promotion. Therefore, perhaps, Magic Leap gives the search for a key use case to the developers. “People often ask me: what will be the coolest application for Magic Leap?” Said Karayev, who acknowledges that he doesn’t have an answer as such. “I think I learned the following: there is no one coolest application.
The only candidate from all that I saw was the MICA demo, which the company is positioning as a personal assistant. In the demo, she sat at the table and offered me to join her, after which she simply stared at me with the intensity of Marina Abramovich (she was in fact written off from the famous performance “The Artist in the Present”), checking whether I would be afraid to answer in reply. on her. A sense of provocation from a digital avatar in the real world was fairly new, interacting with it seemed emotionally charged and sensitive, close to an ominous valley. During the conference, I heard some people crying over the fact that Magic Leap wants to use their MICA as something like Alexa, although it is capable of much more. Whatever the case, Ebowitz did not mention her, listing what pleases him most.
The software package for developers, Magic Leap Creator's Edition, can be purchased on the company's website for two months. Karayev says that they have registered about 50,000 people. He did not disclose how many developers actually downloaded this kit, although he said that it downloaded less than 50,000, and less than the number of points sold. He did not say whether the consumer version will appear next year, although from his reaction I realized that he would not.
But now it may not matter. Magic Leap has been funded by venture investors and companies, technopress, Google, one of the largest telecommunications companies, developers for augmented reality, looking for their point of reference, a huge amount of capital, desperately looking for a new technological system to be merged with, a new platform for colonization. If in the end, Magic Leap succeeds, it’s because the company is already too big to fail.
Magic Leap has already raised $ 2.3 billion in investment - recently, even receiving money from the state fund of Saudi Arabia , the state that broke into the newsafter his government, judging by the charges, sent a detachment to kill and dismember a journalist who criticized his regime in her embassy in another country - and this is even before she even released a beta version. According to Bloomberg , negotiations are underway to create a system commissioned by the US military, which would "increase the deadliness" of the soldiers. (Karayev refused to disclose the details of the negotiations, but confirmed that negotiations with various government agencies are indeed under way).
That is why all this fuss, associated with the support of the company’s sweet and bizarre attempts, confuses me. It seems to me that we, at least, should compare the products of Magic Leap with the standards and product descriptions made by its own founders and creators - and to these standards at the moment it is not very strong. We need to talk about it freely, especially because all this graciousness and quirkiness veils a whole set of ethically controversial partnerships and investment projects. Why does this company deserve an uncritical good attitude on the part of someone? Why does everyone want to give her the most generous assessment?
Do not misunderstand me, in many contexts these demos would be pretty cool, energetic, admirable in the field of emerging media. I do not want to throw mud at the hard work of developers, coders, creative people who worked on creating exciting interactions and concepts. But this company did not show in which direction its product will move in the future, it regularly deceived journalists, talking about its products, and made unfulfilled promises. So before developers accept it, before we call it the next iPhone, or somehow, it seems reasonable to assess whether it can fulfill the most basic promises - this should help determine its reliability in other areas. This company wants to cover entire cities with its Magicverse,
“Today our world seems fragmented,” Roni Ebowitz said in his first presentation, before emphasizing the company's freedom from baggage, and its unmarked platform. “As a community of creative people, you and I can refuse to carry on this luggage, holding back the traditional carriers that appeared earlier.”
Apparently, we are hinted that Facebook didn’t live up to our expectations, and tweeted too many Nazis on Twitter. There are too many Harvey Vansteinovs in Hollywood and too many Limbos on the radio .. We have everything here from scratch - let's go to us. All this is far from the statements that the company is developing a computing paradigm that will change the world, made in 2014. It’s also amazingly naive to think that this platform will develop immunity against the very same conflicts and disagreements that all previous platforms pursue. It seems even stranger when you consider that a large share in the company belongs to a country notorious for human rights violations, that the company will allegedly work to increase the lethality of the military, that this company only dealt with a sex discrimination case last year - that some people would call luggage. The creative community can really refuse baggage of platforms of the past - and refuse to develop for the company,
Given the toxicity of previous platforms, it may be worth considering a different approach: let's ask who needs “spatial reality”, besides capital and a handful of science fiction lovers, men who dream of living in the Star Wars universe. If the rift and chaos of Internet culture taught us something, it is that the new platforms are particularly susceptible to abuse and abuse, and it is extremely important to understand and trust those who are at the helm.
The technology is generally cool, but so far it is in search of application - in principle, no one could describe why Magic Leap is needed outside of the entertainment world. The product with problems, the hype around it is too overheated, even if there are interesting moments in it. The company's moral compass figures are unclear and have been seriously compromised. It’s time to stop playing with the presumption of innocence until the company demonstrates that its product is worth sharing our reality with it.